Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Theorem Against Double Bases

1. Basic Principle of the Theorem

It appears that we are more stable if we stand with both legs rather than with one leg.

Taiji lays importance on balancing oneself in action but it would appear that its Theorem Against Double Bases ("TADB") is at odd with what we normally think about balancing. According to TADB, a double based position is a bad position.

Why single based?

Look at the top in the picture above.

The foot of a top is small. It will fall down easily when it is static. However, a top will not fall down whilst spinning.

To name one obvious advantage: A spinning object generates centripetal force or centrifugal force.

A double based object cannot spin around easily. Likewise, a doubled based person will not be able to spin his body easily in action - he can only do so by putting all his weight on one leg.

In order to overcome the Strong Man Principle, a weaker party has to move around quickly and deal with the stronger opponent with suitable techniques.

Not knowing the secret of the TADB, a double based party will ironically, and inevitably, end up locking horns with his opponent!

2. Moving Forward

At the beginning of the taiji martial art training, a practitioner learns how to maintain his balance. At the later stage of the training, it is the reverse. A senior practitioner should learn how to make use of the force generated by the lose of balance. This is not a situation of really losing one's balance. The unbalanced position is somewhat "intentional" by making use of the TADB. It is "created" as a result of "sticking, adhering, connecting and following" to an opponent to such an extreme that one can no longer maintain his balance.

A skillful practitioner can, however, make use of the power produced by such an "unbalanced" position to uproot his opponent and, through uprooting the opponent, maintain his balance again - he is now in a recovery mode. It's just like holding the hand rail in a moving train to maintain one's balance. The power as generated by an unbalanced body is not enough to move a train, but it is more than sufficient to uproot an opponent.

This is the conversion of balance and unbalance, the conversion of Yin and Yang.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Myths of the Taijiquan Form

1. The Myth of the Standard Form

These ceramic figures represent some postures of the "Standard Form" Yang style taijiquan prescribed by the Wushu authorities in Mainland China.

This so called "Standard Form" has been set up for many years and it has been practising by millions of people in China and all over the world.

Some time ago, there was a video clip circulating on the web purporting to be a demonstration by the late Master Yang Shou Zong (the fourth generation gate-keeper, great grand son of Grand Master Yang Lu Chen, who stayed in Hong Kong after the 2nd World War), practising the taijiquan form on his 70th birthday. While following the same sequence, the form as demonstrated by late Master Yang (showing, inter alia, a 100% to 0% balance) is obviously different from the "Standard Form" in many respects.

The Yang taijiquan was originally passed down by the Yang family.

Who defined the standard, the Yang family gate-keeper or the Wushu authorities?

Different people may have different answers.

My view is that if you do not understand the fundamental principles of taiji martial art and their relationship with the taijiquan form, a form is only a form. An empty form has very little value from a martial art perspective. However, if you only treat taijiquan as a morning exercise, and you do find that the form you are practising is beneficial to your health, why bother?

On the other hand, if you already have a good understanding of the fundamental principles, it should not bother you either. You should have no difficulties in identifying which form to practise.

2. The Myth of the Fighting / Application Form

In the past 10 years or so, we start seeing people telling the world that there are in fact two types of taijiquan forms. The "Health Form" is for health purpose and the "Fighting / Application Form" is for fighting applications. According to these people, the "Health Form" was designed for the general public and aim at promoting good health only and that the "Fighting / Application Form" is the "real" art and reserved secretly in the Masters' small circles and was transmitted on secretly.

I have no comment on the authenticity of these claims. Be that as it may, do we really need such kind of form distinction?

As discussed previously, practising the taijiquan form is good for health for, amongst others, the following reasons:

1. For body and mind coordination; and

2. For recovery from injuries and illness.

When I first learned taijiquan, there was no such "health form" and "fighting / application form" distinction. Whether you learned the form for health purpose or for martial art training, the teacher taught you the same form - If you know how to coordinate your body and mind efficiently in your movements, you obtain a balanced body and you will have good health. For martial art training, you also need to develop a balanced body before you are in a position to learn the application techniques, so you practise the form as part of the training (you will need to train in other things to reach the martial art standard). Hence, everyone learned the same taijiquan form from the very beginning.

After a practitioner's body has revived back to the balanced position (in the martial art standard to be exact), the form can be used to fine tune the body and mind coordination. You do the form slowly, in accordance with the martial art requirements, so as to check if each part of the body has been fully activated. However, this is not something a beginner or a practitioner in the intermediate level can appreciate.

The reality is that practising the taijiquan form is only part, and the elementary part, of the Taiji Martial Art system.

Whilst taijiquan form is important to the system, it is incorrect to believe that one can acquire some super-natural power by learning the "right" form or that one can become a fighter by practising the form alone. There is no shortcut to success. In order to become a real taiji martial artist, one has to undergo a series of hard training. There is no secret in this.

In order to develop a balanced body, you will of course need to prastise the taijiquan form in the correct manner.

3. The Myth of Soft as if Without Bones

As the taijiquan form is good for health, a lot of people practise it everyday as "morning exercise". However, it appears to me that not many people know how to do it in a "correct" manner and, therefore, cannot get the best out of it.

By "correct" I mean meeting the requirements as set down in various Taijiquan classics.

One such requirement is that "when you move, the whole body moves; when you stop, the whole body stops".

The purpose behind this requirement is that, you coordinate various parts of your body to do a task. For morning exercise purpose, this trains a practitioner to keep good control of his body and learn how to maintain his balance (reducing the chance of falling down due to lose of balance on slippery floor). While the muscles power of a practitioner may not be be strong, he can still be active if muscles in different parts of his body can work together in carrying out a task.

The requirement is to move different parts of your body coherently. There should be a linkage between these separate parts such that the movement of one part will enhance the movement of the other related parts.

You gain very little benefit, if, for example:

(1) after your main action has stopped, you extend your arm / leg slowly, pretending to be artistic, relax and soft; or

(2) separate parts of your body do things separately / independently, pretending to be soft as if without bones.

In these 2 circumstances, a practitioner uses individual parts of his body separately and independently. Hence, he cannot get the benefit discussed above. You can regard this as a kind of exercise nevertheless, but this kind of exercise can not be regarded as up to standard in the taiji system, and there is no room for further development.

Taiji emphasises "softness and relaxation". Such "softness and relaxation" is a kind of "coordinated softness /relaxation" engineered by "will power". It does not equal to the misinformed concepts of "absence of strength" or "soft as if without bones" - such misconceived "softness" leads to the defect of "detach" in application techniques.

Apart from coordinating the mind and body, there are other requirements, such as: relax your shoulder, lower your elbow, sink your chest, pluck up your back, upright your tailbone and upright your head, etc.

All these requirements, like the requirement of coordination, have their respective rationale in the martial art aspect and should not be taken literally.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bow and Arrow

Taiji learners like to talk about the five bows in the body. It is said that "Fa Jing" is like shooting out an arrow.

However, very few know exactly how the bows operate. Without knowing how the bows operate, one can never shoot out an arrow successfully, not to say with power.

The most important member of the five bows is the body bow. Many contemporary taiji commentators say that the body bow is the spine. According to them, what you need to do is to curve your spine and make it straight again, just like pulling the string of the bow and release it, in order to send out the power.

It gets you nowhere if your follow this method.

It is true that you need to move your spine in order to send out the internal force. However, it cannot be done by curving and straightening your spine in the normal way. You need to activate your back muscles and the related power channels in the very first place in order to utilise the power of your body bow. Before your back muscles are activated and the related power channels opened, the purported curving and straightening of your spine is meaningless - You only curve / straighten your body by contracting / extending the muscles in the front part of your body. Your spine is still sleeping.

You need to think about "fa jing" from the perspective of exercising coherent bodily force. It is not just a matter of opening the bows (all five bows). It is the coordination of the whole body, whereupon the whole body contracts or extends coherently and in a very short slice of time, with your back performing the decisive role.

Assuming that you have activated your back muscles and opened the related power channels. The next step is to find out the way to pull the string of the bow. The method is to contract the back muscles and then extend it. It is the converse of opening the string of a physical bow where you extend the string first and then release it to let it contract again.

It is the expansion of power that sends the power arrow out. You cannot send out the arrow by the other way round.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lock Horns

The lock horns position is a typical example of positive force versus positive force. He who is stronger will win the contest (the "Strong Man Principle"). However, no matter how strong you are, your body condition will decline as time goes by and you will meet people stronger than you.

The Taiji Classic said, if the stronger person will always win, what's the point of learning an art (of martial)?

Most martial art schools have their own specific application techniques to overcome the Strong Man Principle.

In Taiji, the Yin Yang Conversion Principle is the answer. Applying the Yin Yang Conversion Principle, a weak party makes use of the strength of the strong party to defeat the latter. It does not mean that a strong body is useless - you still need a strong physical body to support your skill. It's just that muscle strength no longer plays a decisive role here. The weak party and the strong party have equal chances. He who has the higher skill and can apply the yin /yang principle creatively has a higher chance to win.

As a starting point, a taiji practitioner should first go through the "Know Your Own Self" stage to recreate the coordinated body condition. This is the foundation of the art. An internal martial artist builds up a natural body rather than a body with strong muscle power.

Some misinformed internal martial art practitioner over emphaize the importance of "Fa Jing" or "Coherent bodily force". It is correct that after acquiring a natural body, an internal martial artist becomes very powerful as he can utilise coherent bodily force. However, no matter how powerful he has become - he is still a slave of the "Strong Man Principle" if he simply uses his power to defeat a weaker opponent.

A buffalo is strong. We appreciate the strength of a buffalo, but we do not want to act like a buffalo. With the suitable skill, a small boy can control a buffalo by knotting a string to the buffalo's nose. That's where the application techniques come into the picture.

It is not to say that a natural body is not important. A Taiji practitioner will not be able to skillfully apply the Yin Yang Conversion Principle in the absence of a natural body. You will need the flexibility of a natural body to exercise the application technique. With a natural body, a Taiji practitioner is qualified to enter the "Know Others" stage and start learning the Taiji skill.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

On Positive And Negative - Towards a Theory of Yin Yang Conversion

Some technical notes on Occupying the Centre:

Each person has his own centre. When in action and in contact, a proficient taiji practitioner, through body contact, uses Yin (negative) force to meet Yang (positive) force and merges the centres of 2 persons into one. Technically speaking, there can only be one centre in a coherent moving force. The practitioner will either use his own centre to take over the other person's centre or use the other's centre as his own centre (advanced technique). The purpose is to procure Yin / Yang conversion between the 2 persons. The centres separate again after the conversion.

+ and - ---> O ---> - and +

separation (Yang / Yin) ----> unification ----> (Yin / Yang) separation

Where there is no movement, there is no Yin and Yang, and there is no room for taiji.